Defence cooperation with Russia

India-Russia defence relations are set to receive a boost during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Moscow in the third week of December. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has done the ground work during his early November visit to Moscow during which he discussed issues ranging from the lease of second nuclear submarine to Fifth Generation Fighter aircraft and manufacture of weapon systems and platforms in India. Lot of contentious issues, like the maintenance problems of Su-30MKI and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, will also be on the menu during Putin-Modi meeting.

Parrikar is reported to have given a final shape for the proposal for acquiring second Akula class submarine. The Putin-Modi meeting is expected to put their final stamp of approval on the transfer of second Akula class submarine on lease to India. The first nuclear Submarine christened INS Chakra was inducted in Indian Navy in 2011. Earlier India had inducted the first ever Charlie class nuclear submarine in 1989 on ten year lease and has already been returned to the Russian shipyard. The second Akula class nuclear submarine, though, would not be armed with nuclear missiles like the first one. However, this will roam in the Indian Ocean with impunity and thus can help Indian Navy keep a close watch in the Indian Ocean with enhanced surveillance capacity.

Acquisition program

Parrikar also discussed the acquisition of long range air defence systems S-400 surface to air missiles (SAM), which has a range of 400 kms and two different kinds of helicopters. The helicopters are Mi-17 V5 medium lift helicopters and Kamov-226T utility helicopters to be manufactured in India.

Manohar Parrikar has given the go ahead for the negotiations on S-400 and the two helicopters. Talks on these are expected to be finalized before Modi’s visit to Moscow. Describing Russia as an all weather friend in an interview before his departure to Moscow, Parrikar said, “There are many issues that can always be in such relationships, and I think the best way is to have them resolved. I see a certain enthusiasm to resolve them from both sides as well as possibilities to involve Russia in the ‘Make in India’ program.”

The S-400 can tackle the challenge of incoming ballistic missiles, hostile aircraft and stealth aircrafts and drones flying at a range of 400 kms. Interestingly, China has already acquired S-400 missiles from Russia. The total deal for all these would be over US$5 billion, which will prove to be the biggest defence deal to be signed with Russia.

Interestingly the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation has already developed the 15 to 80 kms range Advanced Air Defence Missile system, but the Indian armed forces are reported to have placed the requirement for an air defence system with much longer range, in view of the acquisition of longer range missile by Pakistan and China. The decision to acquire Russian air defence missile has been taken in spite of heavy pressure from the US administration to acquire the PAC-3, Patriot air defence missile system.

During his visit issues relating to the maintenance of Sukhoi-30MKI was  discussed thoroughly by Parrikar with his Russian counterpart and a solution seems to have evolved on which a final decision is likely to be announced during the India-Russia summit in late December this year.

The Su-30 MKI aircrafts are reported to be suffering from serious maintenance problems and the serviceability of the aircraft has gone down to precariously low level. According to sources Russia is reported to have agreed to have manufacturing facility in India to make spare parts for the Su-30s. The poor state of Su-30MKI aircraft serviceability has been a cause of concern for Indian Air Force.

The Indian MoD is reported to have given a halt to further discussion on the FGFA . Technical and commercial issues are proving to be biggest stumbling block in making further progress in implementing the agreement reached during last decade when President Vladimir Putin visited India. It was proudly declared in Parliament that the prototype of the FGFA would be ready by 2017 and production would begin by the end of decade. However, the present status of the aircraft is woefully far behind this target. Hence, an alternative is being considered.

FGFA project

India can acquire three or four squadron of the Russian FGFA PAK-FA T-50 and promote the Indian Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) as Make in India program with foreign collaboration. The aeronautical development agency (ADA) of the DRDO has been working on this since last many years and is now reported to be working on the design of this aircraft. If India proceeds ahead with the PAK-FA T-50 program, the Russian leaders would be more than happy.

Before leaving for Russia for the Intergovernmental commission on Military-Technical Cooperation meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, Parrkair told the Russian News Agency TASS that talks regarding the procurement of S-400 surface-to-air missiles (SAM) would be held. He said, “They may not take a final shape during my visit but we’d like to prepare some of them for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia in December-for example, the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. Also, the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month,” Parrikar said.

As is well known India has got extensive assistance in the production of the first indigenous nuclear powered submarine INS Arihant and the second similar class of submarine is in production line with the Russian cooperation. India also is planning to produce six such nuclear submarines, for which continued Russian assistance would be necessary. Russia has extended crucial help in the development and production of nuclear submarine.

Ever since India has diversified its defence acquisition, Russia has been complaining to Indian officials. Using the issue as an excuse, Russian companies have been given free hand to export weapon platforms and systems to Pakistan. Among those has been the Mi-35 attack helicopters and there are reports of negotiations between Russia and Pakistan for the supply of three squadrons of Su-35 multirole aircraft, which is said to be advanced version of Su-30 MKI aircraft.

Defence Minister Parrikar is reported to have raised these issues with his counterpart and the well parroted reply has been that Russia will not act against Indian strategic interest. Russia has also been saying that when India cannot object to USA supplying weapon systems to Pakistan, and India obtains weapon systems from US and European countries ignoring Russia, claims, Russia has got all the rights of selling weapons to Pakistan. Though Russia has sold weapon systems to China, India has never raised any alarm over the sale, but Pakistan is too sensitive a case for India. India would not like Pakistan to be armed by its strongest strategic ally.